Monday, October 26, 2009

That Touch of Merde

Our $700 million military base “embassy” in Baghdad still has a few problems, and we don’t just mean a leaky roof:
But according to a report issued last week by the State Department’s inspector general, the complex is a monument to shoddy work and incompetent oversight. Walls and walkways are cracking, sewage gas flows back into residences, wiring is substandard, fire protection systems are faulty and other safety provisions are not up to contract specifications.

The report says that construction “was significantly deficient in multiple areas” and may not meet safety codes. It called on the State Department to seek $132 million in damages from the main construction company, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, which received $470 million for work on the embassy.


The 57-page report details problems with water, wiring, design, automation, sewage, walls, ceilings, power generators, emergency safe areas and structural reinforcement to protect the embassy from earthquakes. It says that First Kuwaiti charged for $33 million worth of design services that were either incomplete or undocumented. Executives at First Kuwaiti did not respond to a request for comment.

Awkward! If First Kuwaiti GT&C doesn’t ring a bell, let me dig into the memory hole for you:

First Kuwaiti, as well as other Middle Eastern companies under U.S. contracts in Iraq, has been accused repeatedly of pressuring its workers to take jobs in war-torn Iraq against their wishes . Once there, those workers are said to have often endured pay of just dollars a day, lousy food, bad medical care, crammed housing and 12-hour work days, seven days a week. Some who have witnessed such brutal conditions liken it to modern-day slavery.

First Kuwaiti's general manager, Wadih al-Absi, calls such accusations lies. But the accusations come from workers in Nepal, the Philippines, former Halliburton supervisors and even those well acquainted with the company's upper management. None of these people know each other, but they have the same complaints of poor treatment and labor trafficking.


The contract for the U.S. embassy "was political," said one competitor. Why political? Because Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that was willing to allow the staging of land troops for the 2003 invasion, whisper other disgruntled contractors. The State Department intervened before on behalf of other Kuwaiti firms. After the invasion, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Richard Jones, pressured Halliburton to buy overpriced fuel from the unknown Kuwaiti firm Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company, according to official documents. That fuel, intended for domestic use in Iraq, resulted in ongoing disputes about overcharges of possibly several hundred million dollars. Jones then returned to Washington to serve as the senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq at the State Department. He was in that position when First Kuwaiti was awarded the embassy contract.

I wrote about First Kuwaiti GT&C here, when the Bush Administration waived a law requiring open and competitive bidding to award the embassy contract to the firm. This is after it rejected a North Carolina firm, of course.

I wrote about it again when a criminal investigation into labor trafficking began.

It’s that touch of merde, Baghdad style. We basically gave the contract to a Kuwaiti firm in exchange for them letting us use their country to stage our war. And then they rip us off and use foreign slave labor to build our embassy. There’s so much irony swirling around this story I can’t stand it.

If there’s a more perfect metaphor for our entire Iraq misadventure I’d love to see it.